Drug safety campaign aimed at festival attendees

Concern over circulation of high-potency drugs
  • Deborah Condon

The HSE is appealing to people attending music festivals this summer to stay safe if they are using illicit drugs.

It has launched a drug harm-reduction campaign, in an attempt to offer practical advice to those who may choose to take drugs over the coming months.

"Music festival attendees report particularly high levels of illicit drug use internationally, so we are aware that, in some incidences, festivals can be an environment where drugs are taken.

"The message is clear - it is always safer not to use drugs at all. However, we need to be realistic and acknowledge that festivals are risk-taking settings where people may try drugs for the first time or try new types of drugs. This harm-reduction campaign is to keep people as safe as possible," the HSE said.

The main harm reduction advice from experts is:

-Leave the mixing to the DJ. Mixing drugs, including alcohol and prescription medication, increases your risk of becoming unwell or overdosing

-Keep cool and stay hydrated. Sip water but do not drink over a pint an hour. Take breaks from dancing and give yourself time to cool down

-Don't be afraid to get help especially if you or a friend becomes unwell or feels suicidal after using drugs. Be honest with emergency services about what was taken, they are there to help.

"We are aware that young people mix drugs, and of certain trends related to this, such as mixing cocaine and ketamine. We are also aware that young people are using newer drugs such as 2 CB.

"Ireland ranks third highest for the use of cocaine in Europe and second for the use of MDMA, after the Netherlands. We are particularly concerned in relation to high potency MDMA and other drugs that are circulating in Europe," explained Dr Eamon Keenan, the HSE's national clinical lead in addiction services

He urged people to avoid mixing drugs, even with alcohol.

"We anticipate these trends for festival season, but mixing drugs, even with alcohol, increases your risk of adverse consequences or overdosing. Never mix drugs, and if you begin to feel unwell, do not be afraid to get help and be honest with emergency services about what was taken," Dr Keenan said.

As part of this campaign, and in order to get a better understanding of festival drug use and harm-reduction practises, the HSE is also launching a new study ‘What are you taking?', with Dr Jo-Hanna Ivers of Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

The study will investigate festival drug trends, health and sexual wellbeing, and preferred music genres. It will also try to determine if people would use drug testing facilities at festivals.

"Music festivals are a massive part of Irish and European culture, and club drugs are a dominant part of the festival experience for many. Nevertheless, given the high turnover of new drugs and the environment that these substances are taken, the risk of overdose is high.

"However, few studies have consulted with festival goers around this issue. The current study is the first of its kind in an Irish context and one of few internationally. It will provide key insights into attitudes towards use and the need for harm-reduction measures," Dr Ivers said.

The Body and Soul festival in Westmeath this weekend will be the first festival to incorporate this new HSE approach and promote drug risk-reduction messages before and during the event.

Drugs.ie will have a team on-site at the festival to talk about drug trends and harm-reduction practises with attendees, and festival medics have been trained on emerging drug trends and substances in advance of the event.

For more information on this new campaign, click here.


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